When it comes to eating, slow and steady really does win the race.
Preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in California suggests that people who eat slowly are less likely than speed-eaters to become obese or to develop metabolic syndrome, which encompasses a litany of conditions associated with stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
In 2008, Japanese researchers, led by Hiroshima University cardiologist Dr. Takayuki Yamaji, recruited more than 1,000 healthy Japanese adults. They asked them to characterize their eating speed — slow, normal or fast — and tracked their health for the next five years.
Eighty-four people were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome during those five years, with a clear connection between eating speed and development of the disease. The incidence rate was 11.6% among fast eaters, 6.5% among normal eaters and just 2.3% among slow eaters. The speedy diners were also more likely to weigh more, have a larger waistline and suffer from higher blood sugar.
MORE: Why Slow Eaters May Burn More Calories
Those results aren’t all that surprising, says American Heart Association spokesperson and NYU Langone cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg. Lots of research, she says, has shown that eating fast is associated with weight gain and other health issues.
“You probably do eat more because you’re eating so quickly. You really don’t have any idea of what you’ve eaten,” Goldberg says. “When you eat slowly, you’re much more aware of your eating. You’re chewing your food properly and you’re also slowing down digestion.” Doing so also helps you feel full.
Goldberg says it should take at least 30 minutes to eat a meal and adds that eating while working is among the worst things you can do.
“Eat in a situation where it’s conducive to eating — we’re talking kitchen, dining room, restaurant. If it’s at your desk, you really need to not work at the same time you eat,” she says. “Even if it’s as short as a half hour, it’s better than doing it in 10 minutes while you’re answering your email.”
If you tend to inhale your food, you’ll likely need to train yourself to slow down, Goldberg says. She suggests eating with a friend, cutting your food into smaller pieces, chewing more, taking deep breaths and setting your fork down between bites.
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